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Amid gravestones, one man channels pain into reverence

Andrew Lumish honors veterans by cleaning headstones using special solvents. He volunteers his time because he thinks they shouldn't be forgotten. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
Andrew Lumish honors veterans by cleaning headstones using special solvents. He volunteers his time because he thinks they shouldn't be forgotten. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published May 22, 2018

TAMPA - In Woodlawn Cemetery, just north of downtown, Andrew Lumish knelt in front of a headstone. He scrubbed mold and mildew off the front with a soft brush, leaving his hands covered in a green sludge.

He would rinse and repeat the process until the headstone was spotless, having already washed it down and sprayed it with something called D/2 Biological Solution.

Lumish has been visiting local cemeteries for the last five years, earning the title "The Good Cemeterian."

He transforms weathered and once indistinguishable granite and marble markers, inspired by those he'll never meet and one man he can't forget.

Lumish, an amateur photographer, stumbled upon Woodlawn in 2015. He liked taking pictures of the old monuments in the 130-year-old cemetery.

When he noticed the large numbers of veterans' graves, he began to research the best way to restore them. "They paid the ultimate sacrifice to our country, and to see that they faded away was something I didn't find acceptable," Lumish said.

Now, he takes before and after pictures, and posts them to The Good Cemeterian Facebook page and website. He includes a short biography of the person behind the name.

After a local TV station aired his story three years ago, Lumish went viral. He has since formed a nonprofit and hired a researcher to write the biographies.

In his mind, always, is Chris Scala.

Scala once worked for Lumish's Chem-Dry upholstery and carpet cleaning franchise. He also was an Air Force veteran.

One Friday in July 2013, Lumish told Scala he would text him the time for Monday's first job. Scala didn't respond, which Lumish thought odd. The next morning, he found out Scala had passed away.

Lumish said Scala, who had post-traumatic stress disorder, committed suicide.

Lumish knew about the PTSD but didn't think it was that bad.

"He talked to me about stuff, and I was that person to him," he said. "I wasn't on that day."

Now when Lumish cleans grave markers, he does so in part to honor his friend. He doesn't want Scala, like the others, to be forgotten.

After coming to terms with Scala's death, Lumish said he has become more philosophical about life. He appreciates friends and family even more. And he wants others to look around and recognize those who make a difference.

"You are surrounded by heroes today."

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